State Supreme Court Rules Against ESPN in Lawsuit

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Last updated: 06/19/2012 12:09 PM

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State Supreme Court Rules Against ESPN in Lawsuit
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State scored a victory over its most bitter rival Tuesday.

It wasn’t Michigan, the school's actual archrival on the field. Instead, the Buckeyes secured a win over a new, equally dangerous, equally despised foe that stormed the Keep in Columbus over the last year.

As first reported by the Associated Press, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio State in the lawsuit filed by ESPN over records it hoped to obtain from the University in connected to the school’s football scandal and NCAA investigation.

Considered to be one of the most powerful entities in all of sports, ESPN attacked the Ohio State scandal like a school of piranhas. The “World Wide Leader” had hoped the Supreme Court would order Ohio State to release any and all records related to the forced resignation of head football coach Jim Tressel, along with the untimely exit of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Using the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as a shield, the university had declined to provide ESPN with certain documents, including some communications between athletic department officials and the NCAA addressing the investigation of Tressel.

It also included documents identifying persons officially barred from access to student athlete pass lists, along with communications to or from university officials that mentioned the name of Ted Sarniak — a Pennsylvania businessman who had also become an advisor to Pryor before he enrolled at Ohio State.

“ESPN argues that FERPA does not prohibit the disclosure of the requested records by educational agencies and institutions like Ohio State,” the Court said Tuesday.

“It merely penalizes those educational agencies and institutions that have a policy or practice of permitting the release of those records without parental consent by withholding federal funding.”

Ultimately, the Ohio Supreme Court decided the majority of ESPN’s lawsuit lacked proper merit. The Court did issue a limited writ of mandamus ordering Ohio State University to provide ESPN with several documents related to the 2011 NCAA investigation, but declined to order disclosure of most of the records sought by ESPN in the lawsuit.

The Court ruled unanimously that Ohio State properly withheld the remaining requested records based on attorney-client privilege.

“An attorney does not become any less of an attorney by virtue of state agency employment,” the Court ruled.

“There is no requirement in public-records mandamus cases that public offices or officials must ‘conclusively establish’ the privilege by producing agreements retaining agents or joint-defense agreements with attorneys representing other clients. Therefore, Ohio State properly withheld the remaining requested records based on the attorney-client privilege.”

The Court denied ESPN’s request for an award of attorney fees “because Ohio State complied with the vast majority of its obligations under R.C. 149.43 in responding to ESPN’s records requests, and ESPN’s claims are largely without merit.”

In accordance with the ruling, Ohio State must release certain documents to ESPN, but they can remove “certain names” from them before they are handed over.

Ohio State had the support of several national education groups in this case.

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